The Angler’s Guide ToTennessee FishIncluding Aquatic Nuisance Species
Published by theTennessee Wildlife Resources AgencyCover photographPaul ShawGraphics DesignerRaleigh HoltamThanks to the TWRA Fisheries Staff for theirreview and contributions to this publication.Special thanks to those that providedpictures for use in this publication.Partial funding of this publication was providedby a grant from the United States Fish & Wildlife Servicethrough the Aquatic Nuisance Species Task Force.Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency Authorization No. 328898, 58,500 copies,January, 2012. This public document was promulgated at a cost of .42 per copy.Equal opportunity to participate in and benefit from programs of the Tennessee Wildlife ResourcesAgency is available to all persons without regard to their race, color, national origin, sex, age, disability, or military service. TWRA is also an equal opportunity/equal access employer. Questionsshould be directed to TWRA, Human Resources Office, P.O. Box 40747, Nashville, TN 37204, (615)781-6594 (TDD 781-6691), or to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Office for Human Resources,4401 N. Fairfax Dr., Arlington, VA 22203.
ContentsIntroduction.1About Fish.2Black Bass.3Crappie.7Sunfishes.8Temperate (True) Bass. 14Pike. 16Perch. 17Trout. 19Catfish. 21Gar. 24Buffalo. 26Redhorses. 28Carpsuckers. 29Herring. 30Sturgeon. 31Paddlefish. 33Bowfin. 34American Eel. 35Freshwater Drum. 35Mooneye. 36Golden Shiner. 36Goldfish. 37Brook Silverside. 37Stoneroller. 38Chestnut Lamprey. 38Atlantic Needlefish. 39Striped Mullet. 39Other Tennessee Fish . 40Aquatic Nuisance Species. 42Fish As Pets. 57Aquatic Animals Prohibited In Tennessee. 60Live Bait Regulations. 61Tennessee Angler Recognition Program. 61Further Reading . . 62TWRA Offices. 63
IntroductionTennessee has one of the most diverse assemblages of fish in North America withat least 315 species. Of these 315 species, approximately 280 species are considerednative to Tennessee. The non-native species found in Tennessee were either intentionally introduced for food, bait, sport fishing, or vegetation control, or accidentlyintroduced by way of an angler’s bait bucket release, aquarium release and/or bymovement from surrounding states.The waters of Tennessee offer opportunities for anglers of all ages, experience andinterests. With 29 major reservoirs, 19,000 miles of warm- and cold-water streams,plus thousands of smaller lakes and ponds, anglers in the Volunteer State have placesto wet a line year-round.To help identify their catch, the Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency (TWRA)offers this convenient identification guide on nearly 100 species or subspecies, including aquatic nuisance species that are currently present in the state or may befound in the future. Each species is depicted in a photograph with most having adescription of their preferred foods and habitat. It should be noted that listed staterecord fish weights are for sportfishing methods and are subject to change. If an angler catches a fish exceeding the weight listed, the angler should contact the regionaloffice in the area the fish was caught. The most updated version of this guide is available at the TWRA’s website (tnwildlife.org).Although some of the fish species on the following pages are very familiar (bass,crappie and catfish), most anglers will not encounter the other species described.Only 12 percent of the 315 species of fish found in Tennessee are considered gamefish, while the remaining 88 percent are non-game fish. If help is needed in identifying fish you encounter, contact one of the offices of the TWRA listed on page 63.Throughout the guide, many fish have “other name(s)” listed in addition to thecommon name. These are names which have been given to the species by anglersin the Southeastern United States over time and are listed here only for historicalinformation and to help bridge the communication gap between fisheries biologistsand anglers.Before you head to the water to fish however, be sure to stop by the nearest TWRAregional office or a license agent to buy a fishing license. Your fees go toward fisheriesmanagement programs that help ensure your future recreational fishing opportunities. Request a free copy of the Fishing Regulations Guide when you purchase yourfishing license.Remember: If you fish on private property, you must obtain permission from theowner. But whether that favorite fishing hole is on private or public land, be a responsible resource user. Please do not leave trash along our waterways, includingmonofilament fishing line. Also report all littering violations and any suspected illegal dumping into Tennessee’s waters. After all, water is one of our most importantresources and both humans and fish depend on it for their survival. Following thesesimple rules also guarantees that we can all enjoy our natural resources for generations to come.1
About FishLateral line: Nerve endings along a row of pores on either side of a fish from thegills to tail act as radar, allowing the fish to detect the size, shape, direction andspeed of objects.Touch: Fish can detect minute temperature differences and can discriminate between hard and soft baits. Fish are more likely to hold a soft bait longer.Hearing: Water conducts sound better than air, and fish hear directly through thebones in their head, therefore noise on the bank, dock or even in a boat mayspook fish.Taste: Most fish do not rely on taste, but catfish and bullheads have taste buds overtheir entire bodies and fins, including their barbels (whiskers), which help themlocate food.Smell: Fish have a nasal sac to help detect odor. Night feeders, or fish that live inmuddy water, have a highly refined sense of smell.Sight: Most fish lack eyelids and cannot adjust the diameter of the eye’s pupil.Therefore they tend to avoid brightly lit areas. They can detect colors but theirperception of color is affected by water depth and clarity.Fish are cold-blooded, which means that their body temperatures are about thesame as their surrounding environment. Because they don’t produce body heat, fishmust find and remain in preferred water temperatures.A fish’s streamlined shape helps it move through the water. The water also helps“float” fish; many species can make themselves lighter or heavier in the water by increasing or decreasing the amount of gas in their swim bladder.A fish swims by alternately contracting muscles along each side, which causes itstail to sweep and propel the fish forward. The smaller fins assist with forward andbackward movement, provide stability and steering, and may help the fish brake (stop).Fish markings usually serve as camouflage. Fish that are found near rocks orweeds often have blotches or bars on their sides. Many fish are dark on top and lightunderneath, making them more inconspicuous when viewed from above or below.Most fish have scales, which are embedded into the skin and are arranged in overlapping rows. Scales may be thick and tough, as in sunfish, or extremely small, as introut. Catfish, eels and paddlefish have a tough skin instead of scales. Growth markson scales can reveal the age of fish, just as tree rings show the age of trees.The life span of most of our gamefish is about 4 to 10 years, but some of them livemore than 15 years. As you read ahead, you will see that some fish live much longer.Fish continue to grow in length and girth as they get older.Many fish swim in groups or schools. Solitary fish may concentrate when a feedingopportunity presents itself. Some fish wander constantly in search of food while othershave narrowly defined home ranges and wait for food to come close enough to ambush.Fish often make regular daily movements between feeding and resting places,seasonal movements to summer and winter habitat and annual movements to traditional spawning areas. Many species travel long distances to spawn. Spawning activity concentrates some species of fish and makes them easier to find.2
Black BassThe term, Black bass, refers to several species of bass in Tennessee includingsmallmouth, largemouth, spotted, and redeye. Although several species of black bassmay live together in the same waters, they prefer somewhat different habitats. Smallmouth bass prefer the clearer, cooler portions of the reservoirs or the swift runs ofstreams, while largemouth bass prefer warmer, often more turbid parts of the reservoir with ample cover in the form of brush, stumps and similar obstructions. Spottedbass are usually more associated with the smallmouth bass and prefer rocky areas.The spotted bass and largemouth bass are very similar, but there is one good wayto tell them apart. Look at the fish’s upper jaw when the mouth is closed. If the jawextends behind the fish’s eye, it is a largemouth bass (see page 4). If the jaw does notextend behind the eye, you have a spotted bass (see page 5). Interestingly, none ofthese black bass are actually true bass. They are really members of the sunfish family,along with bluegills, crappie, and most other panfish species. Nevertheless, almostanytime anglers mention bass or bass fishing they are talking about these species.Black bass hybrids can occur naturally or be produced in a hatchery. Hatcheriesexperimented with a cross of the largemouth and smallmouth bass in years past andthis was the original “mean-mouth” bass. In the natural environment, largemouthand smallmouth bass occupy different habitats and have different spawning times,so natural hybrids of these two species rarely occur. However, the habitat use andspawning times of smallmouth bass and spotted bass can overlap, and hybrids ofthese two species, while still rare, do occur in Tennessee. While not the original“mean-mouth,” the smallmouth/spotted bass hybrid has acquired this name overtime from anglers.While most anglers may never encounter this hybrid, it is important to note thatan odd looking smallmouth or spotted bass may not necessarily mean it is a hybrid.To avoid any potential size restriction issues, anglers should obey the smallmouthbass size limit (the most restrictive) if they decide to harvest what they think is ahybrid or “mean-mouth” bass.Smallmouth Bass (Micropterus dolomieu)Other names: bronzeback, smallie, brown bassBrian James3
Smallmouth bass can be found in clear, rocky, fast-flowing streams with riffles,pools, and large rocks. These streams should have gravel-rubble bottoms and watertemperature should not exceed 90o F in summer. They are also found in most largereservoirs near ledges and rocky areas where the water is usually clear.They feed on a variety of fishes and invertebrates, such as sunfish, shad, shiners, suckers, tadpoles and crayfish, as well as the nymphs of dragonflies, damselflies,stoneflies, mayflies, and dobsonflies (hellgrammite).Smallmouth bass are found mainly from Kentucky Reservoir eastward to the lower slopes of the Great Smoky Mountains. They are abundant in some areas and rarein others. The average smallmouth bass caught by anglers is 14 to 18 inches with arange between 8 and 22 inches. Tennessee has the recognized world record at 11pounds, 15 ounces. The smallmouth bass is the official state sport fish.Largemouth Bass (Micropterus salmoides)Other names: bigmouth bass, bucketmouth, green troutBrian JamesLargemouth bass prefer calm, warmer waters in jaw extends behind eyerivers, lakes, reservoirs, and ponds, and are oftenfound near aquatic vegetation. They also prefer cover, such as fallen trees, brush and stumps. They arecarnivores, eating insects, frogs, crayfish, minnows,sunfish, and shad. They sometimes feed on land animals such as mice and snakes.Largemouth bass are found throughout the stateexcept in the highest elevations of eastern Tennes- TWRA Staffsee. They are common to abundant in most of their range. The average harvestedsize from reservoirs is approximately 15 inches with most between 8 and 24 inchesin length. The state record is 14 pounds, 8 ounces.Two subspecies of largemouth bass occur in Tennessee. In addition to the onepreviously described, sometimes referred to as the “northern” largemouth bass, theFlorida largemouth bass (Micropterus salmoides floridanus) is also present in thestate. The state record for the largemouth bass has been 14 pounds and 8 ouncessince 1954. In an effort to increase the average size of largemouth bass in Tennesseeand to satisfy the angler’s desire for larger fish, the Florida strain has been stocked inTennessee waters for the past 14 years. Because of their longevity, along with being4
more difficult to catch, Florida largemouth bass have the potential to grow largerthan our native largemouth bass.Research is ongoing to determine the impacts of Florida largemouth bass stockings in Tennessee. Unfortunately, genetic testing must be conducted to determine ifa largemouth bass caught by an angler is a northern or Florida strain, as they are verysimilar in appearance.Spotted Bass: (Micropterus punctulatus)Other names: Kentucky bass, spot, lineside, northern spotted bassBrian JamesSpotted bass are found in large, cool, slower jaw does not extendstreams and rivers. They are also found in most behind eyelarger reservoirs, and their preferred habitat isquite similar to smallmouth bass, although showinga preference for rocky areas.Spotted bass feed on crayfish, shad and aquaticinsects and are found throughout the state except inthe higher elevations in eastern Tennessee. They are Brian Jamesplentiful in parts of their range and scarce in others.The harvest size from reservoirs averages approximately 13 inches and range from 8to 18 inches in length.Until recently, the spotted bass consisted of two subspecies, the spotted bass(Micropterus punctulatus), sometimes known as the northern spotted bass, and theAlabama spotted bass (Micropterus punctulatus henshalli). The latest taxonomic research is calling for the latter to be recognized as a separate species, the Alabamabass (Micropterus henshalli), also known as the “Alabama spot.”In Tennessee, the Alabama spotted bass currently occurs in the southeastern partof the state within the Parksville Lake/Ocoee River watershed. While the TWRA didnot stock this species, it is believed they were illegally stocked by anglers into thiswatershed, since the Alabama spot was originally found only in the Alabama Riverdrainage.The Alabama spotted bass has a growth advantage over our native spotted bassand commonly obtain weights over 4.5 pounds.5
Redeye Bass: (Micropterus coosae)Other name: Coosa bassTWRA StaffRedeye bass are native to the Conasauga River system in extreme southeasternTennessee. Commonly called Coosa bass, the true redeye bass is quite different fromthe rock bass which many people also call a “redeye”. Coosa bass have been stockedin a few additional streams on the Cumberland Plateau. In areas where they exist,they usually occupy the smaller headwater streams during the summer months, butmove downstream during the colder seasons.Redeye bass feed largely on terrestrial insects, but also consume crayfish, fisheggs, salamanders and aquatic insects. These bass are found in isolated areas and areuncommon in all but the eastern half of Tennessee. They seldom exceed 12 inches inlength and most are between 6 to 8 inches. The state record is 1 pound, 15 ounces.6
CrappieBoth white and black crappie live in ponds, lakes, reservoirs and low-gradientstreams and rivers. They concentrate around brush, fallen trees and stumps. Bothspecies feed on insects, freshwater shrimp, amphipods and small fishes and arefound throughout Tennessee except in higher elevations in the east. Although bothare common in their Tennessee range, white crappie are more abundant.Brian JamesBlack Crappie: (Pomoxis nigromaculatus)Other names: papermouth, stubnose, speckled perch, speck,calico bass, slabBrian JamesBlacknosecrappieBlack crappie are found in quiet, warm waters, and are often associated withaquatic vegetation and sandy to muddy bottoms.In the spring, they eat more bottom-dwelling insects than white crappie. Largerblack crappie feed on fish, are less common than white crappie statewide, and normally range from 6 to 14 inches in length. Harvested black crappie average around10 inches in Tennessee. The state record is 4 pounds, 4 ounces.The Blacknose crappie is a black crappie that has a distinctive black stripe running from the top (dorsal) fin to the tip of the nose (see insert picture). It is a geneticvariation of black crappie and is not a hybrid or subspecies. They occurred naturallyin west Tennessee, but have been stocked into several other waterbodies across thestate since the late 1980s.White Crappie: (Pomoxis annularis)Other names: papermouth,speckled perch, white perch,sac-a-lait, slabBrian James7
White crappie are found in streams, lakes and slow-moving areas of large rivers,and they thrive in small lakes and reservoirs. They are more tolerant of muddy waters than black crappie. White crappie males often become much darker during thespawning season and at that time are often misidentified as black crappie.White crappie feed on insects, freshwater shrimp, amphipods and small fishes.They are abundant in their range and the average length for white crappie is normally6 to 14 inches, the same as that of black crappie. The state record for white crappieis 5 pounds, 1 ounce.Sunfishes“This section contains the “bluegill”-type sunfishes, sometimes called bream, andare often incorrectly referred to as perch. Also, many people refer to any small sunfish seen or caught as a bluegill even though it actually may be a redear sunfish, greensunfish, bluegill or other sunfish species.” Other sunfishes (black basses and crappie)were covered previously in this guide. All sunfish have similar food habits, livingchiefly on insects, crustaceans and small fish.Bluegill: (Lepomis macrochirus)Other names: bream, brim, sunfish,sunperch, redbreasted bream,coppernosed breamBrian JamesBluegill inhabit quiet, shallow, reasonably clean, warm lakes, ponds, and reservoirs as well as slow-flowing rivers and creeks containing aquatic vegetation, sand,mud or gravel bottoms. Bluegill can live in most waters but are uncommon in swiftflowing cold trout streams. Insects are their principal food. Bluegill spawn in shallowwater and their beds are shallow depressions usually seen in large groups. Bluegillspawn late into summer.Bluegill are found throughout Tennessee except in the higher elevations of theeastern mountains. They are common throughout this range, and are the most common sunfish in the state. Average bluegill length harvested in Tennessee reservoirs is7 inches and they range from 4 to 10 inches. The state record is 3 pounds.8
Redear Sunfish: (Lepomis microlophus)Other names: shellcracker, stumpknocker, chinquapin, breamBrian JamesRedear sunfish prefer warm, clear, non-flowing waters containing vegetation,stumps, logs and other cover, and are common in farm ponds, lakes and reservoirs.Their main food items are aquatic snails (giving them the common name of “shellcracker”), midge larvae, amphipods and mayfly, damselfly, and dragonfly nymphs.Other foods are zooplankton, fish eggs and crayfish. The feeding habits of redear donot differ significantly from bluegill, except redear sunfish eat more snails. In addition, redear sunfish do not spawn more than once during the year and usually spawnin deeper water than bluegill.Redear sunfish are common throughout Tennessee except in the higher elevationsof the eastern mountains. The average length of redear harvested in Tennessee is 9inches, and range from 4 to 11 inches. The state record is 3 pounds, 6 ounces.Green Sunfish: (Lepomis cyanellus)Other names: green perch,pond perchBrian JamesGreen sunfish will tolerate many habitats, but prefer warm, still waters. They inhabit lakes, ponds and sluggish creeks and streams and are known to establish territory near the water’s edge under brush, rocks or exposed roots.Green sunfish prefer dragonfly and mayfly nymphs, caddisfly larvae, midges,freshwater shrimp and beetles, and will occasionally eat small fish like mosquitofish.Common throughout their range, they are found across the state except in the higherelevations of east Tennessee. Their average length is 4 inches and range between 2and 8 inches in length. The state record is 1 pound, 4 ounces.9
Warmouth: (Lepomis gulosus)Other names: warmouth bass, goggle-eye, bream, red-eyed bream, stumpknockerTWRA StaffWarmouth inhabit relatively shallow, slow-flowing, mud bottom creeks, ponds,lakes, swamps and reservoirs. They are often found hiding around weed beds, snagsand under the banks of streams and ponds, rather than in open water. Because oftheir large mouths, warmouth have more variety in their diet than most sunfish.They eat small fish, as well as invertebrates such as crayfish, snails and freshwatershrimp. Dragonflies and other insects are also important food items.Warmouth are found throughout the state except in the higher elevations of eastTennessee. Warmouth range from uncommon in some locations to common in others. Eight inches is the average length of warmouth harvested from Tennessee reservoirs and range between 4 and 10 inches. The state record is 1 pound, 12 ounces.Rock Bass: (Ambloplites rupestris)Other names: redeye, black perch, goggle-eye, rock sunfishBrian JamesRock bass, sometimes called redeye bass, prefer small, cool streams or the shoreline of larger streams with typically rocky, always silt-free bottoms, clear water andextensive cover. They are occasionally found in clear, rocky areas of reservoirs andoften congregate in deep pools near boulders, ledges, logs and other cover.Major foods of the rock bass are crayfish, aquatic and land insects, small mollusks,10
and small fishes. In Tennessee, rock bass are found in the cooler streams associatedwith smallmouth bass or even trout. They are found between Kentucky Lake andthe higher elevations of eastern Tennessee. Rock bass average eight inches in lengthwhen harvested in Tennessee and range between 6 and 12 inches. The state recordis 2 pounds, 8 ounces.Redbreast Sunfish: (Lepomis auritus)Other names: redbreast bream, redbelly, yellowbelly sunfish, robin, longear sunfishTWRA StaffRedbreast sunfish inhabit streams, rivers and lakes. In streams with rapids, theymove to deeper stretches with gravel or rocky bottoms and frequently concentratearound boulders, limestone outcroppings, logs or aquatic vegetation.The major food of the redbreast is aquatic insects, including caddisflies, dragonflies, beetles, midges and mayflies, and land insects. They also east snails, crayfish,small fishes and occasionally organic matter from the stream bottom.Redbreast are found throughout the state except in higher elevations in East Tennessee. They are more common in the eastern part of the state and are consideredrare in West Tennessee. Redbreast sunfish are also more common in streams thanin reservoirs, ponds, or lakes. Nine inches is the average length of redbreast sunfishkept by anglers in Tennessee with a range from 5 to 12 inches. The state record is 1pound, 5 ounces.11
Orangespotted Sunfish: (Lepomis humilis)Other names: redspotted sunfish, dwarf sunfish, sunperchBrian JamesOrangespotted sunfish are found in quiet streams and vegetated lakes, ponds andreservoirs. Insects constitute their major food source.They are found primarily in the western half of Tennessee and are uncommoneven in that area. With a range of 1 to 4 inches, this sunfish averages 2 inches inlength and is one of the smallest of the sunfish family. The state record is 5 ounces.Flier: (Centrarchus macropterus)Other names: round sunfish, goggle-eye, flier breamMark ThurmanThe flier prefers sluggish lowland habitats with clear, heavily vegetated waters.Its feeding habits are typical of sunfish, and include zooplankton, midges, beetles,worms, snails, clams and occasionally fishes, fish eggs or fry.The flier is found in western Tennessee, in streams that flow directly into the Mississippi River and Reelfoot Lake. Although not common within this range, the average length caught is 4 inches and ranges from 3 to 6 inches. The state record is 8ounces.12
Longear Sunfish: (Lepomis megalotis)Other names: bream,sunperch, pumpkinseedBrian JamesAlthough longear sunfish now thrive in reservoirs, they typically inhabit creeks,small streams and rivers. They feed on immature aquatic insects, worms, crayfish,small fish and fish eggs. Longear sunfish are found throughout Tennessee except inthe higher elevations of the eastern mountains. They are common throughout mostof their range in Tennessee and are one of the most colorful fish seen by anglers.Averaging around 6 inches, adults normally range from 4 to 9 inches in length. Thestate record is 13 ounces.Pumpkinseed: (Lepomis gibbosus)Other names: sunperch, sunnyRob LindbomThe pumpkinseed is an inhabitant of quiet, sluggish waters, and is occasionallyfound in the northeastern part of Tennessee. It is one of the most uncommon sunfishin the state. Pumpkinseed feed on zooplankton, midges, mayfly nymphs, snails andinsects. Their average length is four inches, and range from 2 to 6 inches. The staterecord is 5 ounces.13
Temperate (True) BassAs their name implies, these fish are true bass, as opposed to the black bass, whichare actually members of the sunfish family.Striped Bass: (Morone saxatilis)Other names: rockfish, striper, rock, linesidesBrian JamesStriped bass were originally native to the Atlantic Ocean and Gulf of Mexico,where they entered fresh water only to spawn. In Tennessee, they are found onlywhere they have been stocked, or in places where they have migrated from stockedwaters. They occupy open water areas, usually in schools. Striped bass feed almostexclusively on gizzard shad, threadfin shad, and other herrings.In Tennessee waters where striped bass have been stocked, they can be considered common, but they can migrate to other reservoirs through the series of damlocks. The average harvested size of striped bass from reservoirs is approximately 32inches but range in size from 15 to 40 inches. The state record is 65 pounds, 6 ounces.White Bass: (Morone chrysops)Other names: stripe, striped bass, sand bass,silver bassBrian JamesWhite bass are found in open water schools, usually in clear, cool-water rivers andreservoirs. They feed on fishes, mainly small shad and minnows.White bass are found throughout the state except in the higher elevations of eastern Tennessee and are common to abundant over their range. The average size ofharvested white bass from reservoirs is approximately 12.5 inches and range from 8to 18 inches in length. The state record is 5 pounds, 10 ounces.14
Yellow Bass: (Morone mississippiensis)Other names: brassy bass, striped jack,stripe, yellow belly, barfishBrian JamesYellow bass are found in quiet pools and backwaters of large streams, lakes andreservoirs. They prefer warmer waters than white bass and feed in open water onsmall crustaceans, insects and small fish.Yellow bass are found in Reelfoot Lake and more recently in many reservoirs ofthe Tennessee and Cumberland rivers where they are moderately common to abundant. Harvested yellow bass average about 8 to 10 inches and range from 4 to 11inches in length.
The life span of most of our gamefish is about 4 to 10 years, but some of them live more than 15 years. As you read ahead, you will see that some fish live much longer. Fish continue to grow in length and girth as they get older. Many fish swim in groups or schools. Solitary fish may concentrate when a feeding opportunity presents itself.